IT Manager Jobs Up 44% In 5 Years

Technology Staff Editor
Posted by

Walk into the offices of Millens Recycling in the foothills of New York's Catskill Mountains, ask for Timothy Millard, and someone might say, "Oh, you mean the computer guy." Yes, Millard's that, but he also has grown into a role at the 118-year-old family-run business that goes beyond keeping the PCs and servers running. Millard makes decisions about IT strategy, which technology projects to take on, and how to go about them. Unnoticed by most, Millens' computer guy has been thrust into the job of a manager.
Timothy Millard does double duty for Millens RecyclingPhoto by Ken Schles
There are tens of thousands of IT professionals with similar stories, which, taken together, explains one of the most important trends in the business technology workforce. The number of IT managers em- ployed in the United States has jumped 44% since the dot-com collapse of 2001, com- pared with a 19% decline in the number of programming and support jobs. That translates into 119,000 new IT managers during the same five-year span that programming and support jobs have shrunk by 200,000. Slicing the Bureau of Labor Statistics data another way, managers now represent 11.2% of IT employment, the fourth-largest tech job category, up from 7.8% in mid-2001, when it was the sixth-largest job category. This trend is critical for IT pros to understand as they manage their own careers or make decisions about hiring and developing staffers. Even people who want to stay on a technical track must pay attention because this isn't just a matter of changing titles on business cards. The labor stats are based on people describing their work, not their titles. The surging number of managers reflects the skills that companies value and the way IT is used and implemented in business today.
Who Cares What They Call You?
Title: IT officer, Millens Recycling What he does: All things IT. Millard sets IT strategy based on Millens' business goals and does hands-on IT for the small company How he got there: He was working as a networking consultant when his friend persuaded him to be the one-man IT department. (Oh, and give some credit to his grandfather, who bought him that Commodore Vic 20 back in 1981.) His background: Millard was way ahead of today's emphasis on communication skills in IT, having majored in English and computer science at Gordon College. "Writing is basically the way I like to communicate," which helps in creating proposals explaining to company execs what he wants to do. Advice: Don't get too hung up on formality. "If I walk in as the IT officer, they have no idea what I do. If I walk in as the computer guy, they say, 'Oh, it's the computer guy.' It's a way for me to knock that down a level. Technology makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. They feel stupid. My goal is not to make people feel intimated by the technology."
The growth in IT managers isn't attributable just to small businesses like Millens Recycling, a 40-employee recycler of scrap metal. Big companies are spreading management responsibility--with and without the titles--in order to get decisions made faster. Companies also are aligning IT more closely to business disciplines, which often means putting more people into business units, where they need the authority to represent the IT department. At Dell, one in nine IT employees is a manager; a decade ago, that ratio was about one in 15. Dell CIO Susan Sheskey sees the complexity of IT and business requiring more expertise in narrow disciplines, resulting in smaller teams in which managers supervise fewer people. Not About Direct Reports The influence of the new IT manager isn't measured by the number of his or her direct reports, since many don't have any people who officially work "for" them. Instead, they're managing relationships inside and outside the company. That's a story partly about outsourcing, managing teams of offshore contractors who write code or support a business process. But it's even more about IT-savvy project managers pegged to coordinate initiatives that bridge departments, where the dotted lines on the org chart are every bit as important as the boxes. Nearly a quarter of luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co.'s IT staff are managers. Their job descriptions involve coordinating the IT needs of a specific business operation, including supply chain, retail, inventory control, international, and e-commerce. IT directors work with business units to develop business strategies, and IT managers execute the implementation of tech-related business projects. "I had one of our senior VPs tell me, a person in my area knows more about that business than most of their people," Tiffany CIO Robert Davidson says. The role of the pure technologist isn't dead. Besides managers, the other IT category that added a lot of jobs in recent years is computer software engineer, up 117,000, or 16%, since 2001. The three largest IT job categories--software engineer, computer scientist and system analyst, and programmer--still employ 60% of IT people. But even people who want to stay on technical tracks must develop some management skills, since the people most likely to succeed combine tech chops with business acumen (see story, "Careers: Seven Tips For Success On The IT Technical Track").
Which is more satisfying to you: managing people or technology?
A study this year by the Society for Information Management, led by a team of academics, finds that even IT workers in the trenches must know how to make business decisions. The top three skills sought by IT employers for midlevel hires, not all of whom would be managers, involved managerial proficiencies: planning, budgeting, and scheduling; project leadership; and project risk management. Only two of the top 10 skills entail technical know-how, and those put emphasis on the big picture: systems analysis and systems design. Other sought-after skills include user-relationship management, negotiations, project integration and management, and knowledge of an industry, as well as the functions and processes of the business domain they support. "The word 'manager' implies something these roles aren't doing--formally supervising people," says Kate Kaiser, associate professor of IT at Marquette University's College of Business and one of the study's leaders. "What they're really supervising is the resources to get something done." This story was updated Oct. 2.

It Pays To Be Social
Title: IT portfolio management director, Dade Behring What he does: Monitors and prioritizes some 50 IT projects, including a country-by-country SAP ERP deployment and standardization of customer support on Siebel CRM. How he got there: Ross began a 16-year career at medical diagnostic equipment maker Dade Behring on the IT help desk. He moved onto a number of tech and supervisory roles in infrastructure, telecom, data center, and e-business. Advice: IT people need to be like social workers. No, really--Ross earned a bachelor's degree in social work at California State University, Sacramento, and regularly draws on those people skills. "Even my first job in help desk, that's why I was hired into that position. I showed some competency talking to others, understanding others, and empathy. That was a good start with the help desk role, and that carries through to most of the roles in IT that are asked of me today."
Beyond Manager: 'Hubs' Craig Ross is an IT manager whose success hinges on combining technical knowledge with an understanding of how his employer's business units use technology--and how those all connect. As a director of IT portfolio management for medical diagnostic equipment maker Dade Behring, the 39-year-old prioritizes some 50-plus IT projects, such as a country-by-country deployment of an SAP ERP system and standardizing global customer support on Siebel CRM software. "There's a much more intense integration of IT at all levels than there was in past," Ross says. That integration means more decisions are made in ad hoc groups of technology and business unit people. Such integration has wiped away the clear lines between decision-makers and implementors, and it spreads accountability more widely. "That's the true essence of knowledge worker--somebody who does the thinking and the doing, or at least the orchestration of the doing," says Homa Bahrami, a University of California at Berkeley senior lecturer on organizational behavior. "I can pull together the resources, I can pull together the stakeholders who I don't control and who don't report to me but are absolutely critical for the implementation of a decision I have made." The job of IT people like Ross is to be a "hub," Bahrami says, where business functions--sales, support, marketing, research and development, suppliers, vendors--converge around IT. "Manager" is too old school for Bahrami, which is why she uses the term "hub" to describe the individual leader, like a portfolio manager. "A hub is like a traffic light, sitting at a key intersection with about 50 rows that lead up to you," she says. "If the traffic light breaks down, if the project manager can't do his or her job effectively, there's chaos."
A Man With Many Bosses
Title: Program director, Lionbridge Technologies What he does: Avavindakshan is the go-between for the outsourcer's development teams in India and the IT department of its client, Arizona software company Pearson Digital Learning. On managing across cultures: It's not crucial, but it's helpful, to be an Indian in his job, which bridges two cultures. More important is to put in the time learning what you don't know. "So if you're doing business with India, China, or Poland, it's important that you go there and spend some time if you're not from that place." Advice: Don't discount tech know-how, even as everyone talks up communications and business skills. "To sit here, knowing how the team back in India is executing, and sit in a one-hour project review meeting and kind of gauge and understand if the team is on line or not, you have to go through this shop yourself. When you're taking requirements from the customer, you need to understand capabilities that your team can deal with and to manage customer expectations."
Which Time Zone Is This? Rajesh Avavindakshan shows up most workdays at Pearson Digital Learning, situated in a nondescript building just north of the Fiesta Lakes Golf Course in Mesa, Ariz. A typical day finds Avavindakshan in the offices of some of Pearson's top brass--VPs and the CTO--as they plan development of the e-learning publisher's latest software. A software engineer by training, Avavindakshan's title is program director, and his employer isn't Pearson but outsourcer Lionbridge Technologies. Outsourcing has created a growing group of managers who, whether they're employed by the buyer or the supplier of services, work between business pros and teams of programmers often spread around the globe. As his employer's point man at Pear- son, Avavindakshan supervises three Lionbridge project directors in Mesa and helps direct the work of up to 300 developers, programmers, and translators in India. And he has one of the defining characteristics of many of today's managers: a lot of bosses. He reports to the VP of sales at Lionbridge's Massachusetts headquarters and to the VP of operations in India, and he's accountable to the client's execs. He also works across a lot of time zones. Pearson develops the requirements for a new software product, and Avavindakshan picks the Lionbridge team, including the project managers who scope the project. During development, Avavindakshan keeps tabs on the development in India, which means he's on the phone at 5 o'clock most mornings, getting progress reports from project managers in India, before heading to the office. "Because I'm on-site, I live and breathe what the customer's expectations are," he says.

Moving Up The Ladder People who want to advance their tech careers must find ways to ride the management boom. One way is to spend more time understanding business goals, then show the results of IT efforts in measurements the company most values. That'll make a business technologist more valuable to an employer--and be critical if he or she goes job shopping. "Job descriptions used to be 90% technology buzzwords. Now they're 10% technology and 90% about being able to drive the business," says IT recruiter Samuel Mandolfo, of Mandolfo Associates. Tech pros must be on the lookout for opportunities to embrace management responsibilities when they come along--with or without formal title or resources. Being in a spec-gathering and fulfillment role, where IT merely delivers what a business department requests, rather than bringing new ideas based on an understanding of the company, makes a job a prime target for outsourcing. Paul Walker made the necessary shift over the last six months. He used to spend most of his time setting up servers for his employer, the U.S. Olympic Committee, but his boss challenged him to look at how the committee does its work and identify technology that would advance its goals, then win consensus to move in that direction. Walker says his boss described his role this way: "Instead of working in the department, you're working on the department."
People Support
Title: IT director, Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau What she does: You name it. She works with department heads to map the bureau's strategic IT goals and spends half her time maintaining IT infrastructure. How she got there: Hopwood's interest in computing began in 10th grade in 1970, when she was encouraged to get a job with real skills. She worked in a variety of roles, but mostly around database technology. Hopwood was hired three years ago as a Jill-of-all-trades at the bureau, and when the bureau's president recognized the strategic importance of IT, she was elevated to IT director. Advice: Support people, not systems. Though she's worked around databases for decades, Hopwood got a better understanding of IT's impact as she helped guide the adoption of a new database system, talking to bureau employees and managers about how they used the information. Says Hopwood, "In the past, the problem with IT was that we were so busy supporting products that we didn't always support the people using the products."
Being able to work across departments in this fuzzy realm, where a person isn't designated "boss" but must influence outcomes, is one of the defining characteristics of IT managers today. Often, an IT person in a large company is assigned as a liaison to a business unit, responsible for meeting that group's needs and guiding their tech decisions while also hewing to the broader IT agenda. In that role, IT managers can prove themselves by asserting that broader view. "If you have a stakeholder from the functional area as project manager, there's a tendency to look more toward their own interest, whereas an IT project manager is more impartial," says Josephine Day, IT director at the Project Management Institute. "They'll look at it in terms of what's the deliverable and who's the customer, what is it we need to deliver and by when." At smaller companies, IT staffers can quickly stretch into management roles by demonstrating a willingness to straddle hands-on and decision-making responsibilities. That's what happened at Millens Recycling, where VP Samuel Millens wanted to grow the business and persuaded his friend Millard to take his vision and identify the IT needed to make it happen. But he also needed someone to keep the PCs and servers running, so Millard does both. Kay Hopwood, IT director at the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, estimates she still spends about half her time in a support role, though the bureau recently hired a full-time staffer to help with system troubleshooting and desktop support. Hopwood continues to manage the database and the network while her colleague gains experience. At larger companies, the need for IT managers, with or without the title, is only likely to grow as a share of the total IT workforce. Many of the forces driving IT today--outsourcing, automation, cross-department teams, globalization--have dispersed decision-making and created opportunities for people who can deliver results. "They have the authority to do it on their own, because the CIO can't manage all of this, can't run everything, can't make all those decisions anymore," says Karen Patten, special lecturer on IT management at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Not everyone in IT wants or even should have a manager's title on a business card. But to protect their careers, they should know how to manage projects, processes, and maybe people. Because in today's work environment, it's more about what you do than what you're called.
Continue to the sidebar: Careers: Seven Tips For Success On The IT Technical Track


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • You Might Also Be Interested In

Jobs to Watch